Israeli Arab Woman Petitions Israel's Top Court to Visit Father's Grave Inside Military Base

The state is not letting Qubati visit the grave because it is located inside a military base built at the site of a Christian cemetery in the village of Malul, saying allowing her access would set a problematic precedent

Jack Khoury
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Salwa Salem-Qubati with her uncle, Mansour
Salwa Salem-Qubati with her uncle, MansourCredit: Gil Eliyahu
Jack Khoury

For more than 40 years, Salwa Salem-Qubati has been practically alone in her battle with the authorities to get permission to visit the grave of the father she never met.

The state is not letting Qubati visit the grave because it is located inside a military base built at the site of a Christian cemetery in the village of Malul, near Nazareth. The state says that allowing her access would set a problematic precedent.

This week Qubati and her uncle petitioned the High Court to demand she be allowed to enter the base. They are also demanding that the court make the Interior Ministry and the Israel Lands Administration maintain and protect the cemetery, or allow them or someone on their behalf to do so.

Read more: New Jerusalem ‘Apartheid Road’ opens, separating Palestinians and Jewish settlers

Qubati was born in July 1948, four months after her father died and was buried in what was then the Christian cemetery in Malul. Her family was evicted from the village and moved to Nazareth, where she grew up. After marrying she moved to Kafr Kana. She now has four children and two grandchildren. The petition, submitted through attorney Sausan Zahar of the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, says Malul was destroyed after it was occupied by Israel except for two churches, a mosque and the Christian cemetery.

While it is still possible to reach the churches and the mosque, access to the cemetery was cut off when the military base was built.

The petition describes her efforts over the years to get permission to visit the place where several family members are buried. There have been dozens of appeals made to the authorities, including the Defense Ministry, that were never answered and there was even a pre-petition filing submitted to the High Court in July.

“Each authority passes the responsibility for addressing the petitioner’s requests to another, and no authority gives her a straight answer,” the petition states. “During the course of events it should be noted that no one has expressed or detailed clear opposition to Qubati’s visit.”

A hearing on the petition has been scheduled for June.

In the petition, Zahar says Haaretz published an article on the issue in October 2008, which reported that the IDF had recommended allowing Qubati to visit the grave, but the final decision was left up to the ministry.

“Salwa Salem Qubati’s request is being handled with all due seriousness and professionalism by the relevant parties,” the IDF Spokesman said at the time. “Due to the complexity of the request, this process takes time. Immediately after a decision is reached in her case, the appellant will be notified, not via the media.”

Sources at the Defense Ministry said at the time that the reason for the delay in approving the request was a fear of setting a precedent.

In 2015, Qubati approached officers at the air force base in whose territory the cemetery is located, demanding to be able to visit her father’s grave. The base commander allowed her into the base but did not allow her access to the cemetery. Qubati said that during the visi  she noticed excavation work on one side of the cemetery and that excavations had apparently desecrated some graves. She said exposed skeletons were visible.

Subhi Mansour, Qubati’s 93-year-old uncle on her mother’s side, the only surviving family member to have visited the cemetery, knows the exact location of the graves. Despite his advanced age, Mansour is lucid enough to remember the cemetery's layout, having attended relatives' funerals there.

At age 70, Qubati's health is declining. She is confined to a wheelchair since her foot was amputated last year due to an injury. Speaking to Haaretz in her Kafr Kana home, Qubati expressed hope that the court would order the ministry to let her visit the grave site.

“I’ve been living this story since I’m a child, and to this day I dream of the day when I can visit and touch my father’s grave,” she said. “I’m not asking for something extreme that endangers state security, but making a humanitarian request of the first order. I hope that this time petitioning the court will help. I’m a sick woman and my uncle is already 93, and all we want to get to the Malul cemetery while we're still alive.”